Interior designer Niki Fairchild’s love for
To describe Maya as a labour of love would not be a stretch, for it took owner and interior designer Niki Fairchild the best part of a decade to realise her vision for the old waluawa (house). Situated in the rural
Previously known as Aranwella Walauwa, Maya is set within a rich landscape of tropical gardens and coconut trees, surrounded by paddy fields. "I had travelled a lot to
Setting up a company in
Still occupied by the family which had lived there for decades, the house had fallen into disrepair as they were unable to maintain or sustain the upkeep required. Fortunately, all the buildings had solid ‘bones’, requiring minimal structural repair work beyond the roof, all of which was entirely replaced.
"It is much harder to restore a building than to build a new one," Fairchild says. "But Aranwella was in such good shape that it wasn’t as difficult as we initially thought it was going to be. You do have to go in completely prepared, of course, otherwise you’re going to find yourself rapidly out of your depth."
Working with Sri Lankan architect Pradeep Kodikara, she set about creating interior spaces which acknowledged the property’s Dutch and British period features, while also introducing contemporary living with clean lines and open expanses. A new wing was constructed to house additional bedrooms, and the centre courtyard transformed into a swimming pool.
"Pradeep is very low-key, and he’s prepared to turn down work because he doesn’t want to change the way he operates… That takes a lot of guts," says Fairchild. "At first, he turned me down when I approached him with this project – his style is very contemporary, so when I showed him pictures of this old house, he said ‘no, this is not what I do’. But when I explained that I didn’t want to create a cliché, that I wanted it to be modern, he accepted the challenge."
Maya’s five suites all afford 25-ft ceilings, some with four poster beds and private courtyards, and are individually named after trees in the grounds. Thekka and Kumbuk are situated in the Old House; Amba, Ehela and Kohomba are within the new wing.
The concept was to keep the house true to its original architecture, as evidenced through the restoration of all the woodwork and latticing. Some of the original lattice work designs from the Old House are used to frame the beds in the new wing, while contrast is provided via polished cement flooring throughout, binding the white contemporary framework of walls and surrounds.
Each of the original items of furniture was designed by Fairchild, who worked with local craftsmen to create pieces using locally-sourced materials. The use of teak wood with a natural finish retains a light and modern feel, and even the cement dining table and sofas in the pavilion appear weightless as a result of the clever application of holes cut into the design.
Added to this were items which the designer had collected over the years, as well as "some lovely old antique pieces to make the place feel warm and comfortable".
"I thought really, really hard about everything right from the beginning – I wanted space, not clutter, so that guests would have room to put down their own things on desks or cabinets or even in the bathroom," Fairchild explains. "This project challenged me, pushed me to take a different approach to design… There were a few dark days, of course, but I have really enjoyed it. Everything I imagined has turned out exactly as I hoped."